At the corner of the rue Baba stands the Maison Severin, with its board announcing furnished flats to let. One December evening a journalist went to call upon a colleague there. As he climbed the last flight of stairs, a door was opened violently and a gesticulating female appeared. She shrieked defiance over her shoulder, pulled down her sleeves, and descended with such precipitance that she nearly butted Jobic over the banisters.
Dodging her by a miracle, Jobic entered unannounced.
" Your domestic seems to be perturbed, my dear Pariset," he remarked.
" Tiens, you? " said the young widower, panting. " Yes, she has 1 returned her apron,' she has resigned the situation, that devil—a situation that offered unsurpassed opportunities for pillage. I am left with the dinner unprepared, and the twins to put to bed—and I ought to be at Batignolles by eight o'clock ! "
You should marry again," said Jobic.
" I cannot do it in the time. Mon Dieu, just because I mentioned that it was unintelligent of her always to keep the empty wine bottles among the full ones ! It took me a quarter of an hour to get hold of anything to drink. You may tell a bonne that she is an inveterate liar without disturbing her in the least; you may say that she is an habitual thief, and she will accept the truism placidly; but insinuate that she is a fool, and her vanity is in arms at once ! What has brought you here? "
" I come to borrow a louis".
" Visionary! "
" Spendthrift! What do you do with your salary, then? The fact is, your rent is an extravagance, and you spend far too much in dressing up your babies; for some time I have had the intention of remonstrating with you on the subject. If you exercised reasonable economy you would be in a position to lend me a louis on your head".
" I am. But the monotonous fatigues me. To attain the charm of variety I propose to lend you nothing at all. I tell you what, however—I can provide you with a job".
" For putting twins to bed my lowest figure is five francs. I will cook the dinner for forty sous, and an invitation to share it".
" The tenders are declined. Listen; you may go to Batignolles and write a column around a communist meeting for me. The kiddies are too young for me to leave them by themselves, and I have been counting on this affair to supply material for my causerie in to-morrow's Echo".
" Communist meeting ? " exclaimed Jobic, with distaste; "I do not believe I could borrow any more money under communism than I can now".
" Are we discussing your beliefs ? Has your welfare the remotest interest for me? All I ask of you is to fill a column. Bring the stuff for me to sign before you sleep, and I will pay you your own price for it".
" It's a deal," said Jobic. " Some sprightly copy is as good as on your desk. Your editor will not fail to note a vast improvement in your literary style".
It was in these circumstances that VEcho du Quartier contained a column, over Pariset's pen name of " Valentin Vance," that drove the prettiest communist in Paris to tears of fury. For not only did the writer burlesque her impassioned speech, not only did he poke fun at her theories, and deride her elocution—he actually made unflattering comments upon her personal appearance.
Not since she embraced the Cause six months ago had Suzanne Duvivier read anything to compare with it.
" If I were a married woman," she raged, " my husband should call the monster out for such insults ! " And then, since she was an accomplished pupil at one of the best-known salles for instructing the fair Parisienne to fence, it occurred to her that the lack of a husband was no drawback.
Though there were pressing domestic matters to claim her this morning, she betook herself to kindred spirits, and burst in upon them to demand their services.
" Mais, ma chère," gasped mademoiselle Tisserand and mademoiselle Lagarde, " we have never acted as seconds in a duel, never ! We implore you to dismiss the notion; we counsel you to treat the abuse with the silent scorn that it deserves. The man might run you through your valiant heart".
"Do we shirk danger, we communists ? " cried Suzanne.
" Dear comrade, the Cause cannot spare you. Moreover, every novel with a duel in it that we have ever read makes it clear that it is the privilege of the party challenged to choose the weapons. This monsieur Vance might choose pistols. The novels, again, indicate that it devolves upon the seconds to load the pistols, and we have never done such a thing in our lives. It may also be that you have never handled one yourself? "
For a moment Suzanne Duvivier quailed—she was only twenty-five, and normally no swashbuckler. If monsieur Vance did choose pistols, she knew very well she would have to shut her eyes as she fired. Then the obloquy of the column overwhelmed her anew, and she flung timidity to the winds.
" We must hope for the best, girls," she said, resolutely. " If you are my pals you will not desert me in this hour. I fight for the Cause far more than for myself. I do not know precisely what phrases you should employ—consult the novels !—but the first thing to be done is for you to present yourselves to the man and desire him to name the day. You had better not say ' name the day,' because that has another association, but he must fix the date. If you can contrive to suggest that I hanker after pistols, perhaps he will say 4 swords.' Au revoir, my friends. Bear yourselves firmly—look as if you were used to it. Wear serious hats".
She departed to put in half an hour's practice at the fencing school, and mademoiselle Lagarde moaned to mademoiselle Tisserand, 44 It is terrible, is it not? However, we need not make frumps of ourselves, I suppose. I wonder if my toque would be inappropriate? "
44 Not the least in the world," said mademoiselle Tisserand. 44 What do you think of my hat with the bird of paradise? She is right as regards our demeanour, though—we must be deadly calm. Let us remember that the dignity of communism is at stake. The brute must not be allowed to guess that we are afraid".